Nova Scotia

RCMP were short on officers in rural N.S. county before 2020 mass shooting: review

An RCMP review says that a county where the Nova Scotia mass shooting occurred had a shortage of officers needed to meet the force's policing standards in the year leading up to the 2020 rampage.

Commission will consider force's efforts on the night of April 18 to contain gunman

Two RCMP officers observe a moment of silence on Portapique Road in Portapique, N.S., on April 24, 2020, to honour slain Const. Heidi Stevenson and the other 21 victims of the mass killings. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

An RCMP review says that a county where the Nova Scotia mass shooting occurred had a shortage of officers needed to meet the force's policing standards in the year leading up to the 2020 rampage.

According to the review, which was included in a 1,500-page study released this week at the public inquiry into the killings, the RCMP in Colchester County — which includes three of the communities where killings took place — would have benefited from six added officers in 2019.

The executive summary of the report says having fewer officers than necessary affects the force's ability to carry out what the force refers to as "proactive policing." According to the report, "proactive policing" is time officers have available during a shift for "self-generated activities," such as community policing, and "to target problem areas and focus on initiatives to reduce crime."

The review says when the amount of time available for this form of policing falls below about a third of the officer's hours, it harms "availability and visibility, as well as officer wellness." It also says this minimum standard was met in just 13 of 52 weeks of the year for front-line officers.

The public inquiry underway will be delving into the issue of whether the RCMP response to the shooting of 22 people was adequate, and what lessons can be learned to improve rural policing. Next week, documents will be released examining how officers responded to the crisis in Portapique, N.S., as the gunman rampaged through the community in a replica RCMP vehicle while wearing an RCMP uniform.

The commission will consider the force's efforts on the night of April 18 to contain the gunman, who managed to escape from the town through a field and continue his killings the next day before being shot dead by the RCMP.

Questions remain

In the months after the killings, questions also arose over what measures local officers had taken to investigate citizen reports that the killer had abused his spouse and that he possessed illegal firearms in the years before the rampage.

The review says the RCMP were responsible for policing in an area with a population of about 38,000 people, and the district had about 35 positions for officers to cover the area, including senior officers, school safety officers and court liaison officers.

The review does show that, in general, front-line officers were available to respond to top priority calls when needed — with officers available for immediate response in 96 per cent of top priority calls in 2019.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O'Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

Marie Benoit, a councillor for Portapique — where 13 of the 22 killings occurred — said in an interview that the RCMP has forwarded the proposal for more officers to council, and it is being worked on by the municipality.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Marshall said the preliminary discussions about the review began in 2019 with the municipality of Colchester County. He said in an email the review recommended the existing number of officers be increased by six full-time equivalent positions.

"This recommendation was put forward for consideration of council as there is a cost associated to this recommendation," he wrote in an email.

Peter McLaughlin, a spokesman for the provincial Justice Department, said that under the provincial policing services agreement, the province and those municipalities that choose to contract the RCMP for policing services are responsible for 70 per cent of their policing costs, with Ottawa contributing the remainder.

McLaughlin said the Colchester review was presented to council in September 2020, but council decided to put the process on hold while they hired an external consultant to look at the issue.

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